Bildungsroman with Distant Nation



-after Cathy Linh Che


In summer, my father spoke German with Ms. Elka.

I learned the word for dream, traume,


slept clumsy in my white bed before the mirror.

& the word for love: Elka’s son


with his tongue in my mouth. Perfect blonde boy

from the city, skin flashlit with all his summers.


When Ms. Elka visited, I poured her water

& brought her cookies on a plastic tray.


I greeted her in what little I knew,

mouth searching for the wounding language.


I didn’t know how to say that I took her son

into my mouth like a river, or that I held


a small lightbox in my chest that flashed

when he touched my hairy inner thigh.


All I knew was escape: to sleep facedown,

dream in a language I could not speak:


a land with no homes, no fathers or women:

a lush swath of forest, its wrens nesting like wrens.